The shallow sand Setena rested in was not far from Belus, her now ruined, adoptive home. Nor was it far from the Naedrani’s nest that she’d passed during her escape. She soon discovered that the village had been made into a Black Shell camp and so, she sought no refuge there, searched for no survivors there. She spent her seemingly endless days swimming the sands, eating barloots and diving down to the underground river when she needed water or passed too near a Naedran. She slept her long, chilled nights wrapped in the thin cloak she’d been wearing to keep the sun off her shoulders on the day Belus had been lost. When she was a child, her mother had tried to teach her how to draw warmth from the life around her. On those nights, she regretted not trying harder to master that ancient skill.
Had Setena known of somewhere to go to be protected, of course, she would have gone there- but now that Belus was gone- there was nowhere left. This bothered her little.
The loss of the last of her kinswomen and the village she had pretended was her home for such a short time was nothing to her. She had already mourned them, for she had known that all of them, all of the village, were dead from the moment she arrived there. This bitter assumption that nothing she could do would change what was to come had brought her an odd measure of serenity. The village was burned and the villagers dead before she had even arrived there, they just didn’t know it yet and she was forbidden to tell them.
She did mourn that she had to stop singing again after Belus fell, yet she could not allow herself to disobey the prohibition. It did not matter than no one would was there to hear her, save the Naedrani. She couldn’t dishonor so many kind spirits ad those of her dead kinswomen. As there was no one for her to talk to (and she knew that letting herself talk to herself was a sure sign of madness), she was silent for days. And so, she began to listen to the silences. She learned to hear the winds across the sands and the whisper of squinkies crawling just below the surface and the passing sizzle of the Naedrani as they moved through the sands rooting out barloots and hunting squinkies. She learned the slow silence of the bright heat of the day and the rapid silence of the cool dark of the night.
There was a large number of Naedrani near to the village- their nest was close- and there were paths of loose sand crisscrossing the area from their constant activity. As the days progressed, Setena began to notice patterns in their travels. Some paths were greatly used and others hardly at all. Some were used more often by night and others more often by day. Soon, she could anticipate when and where the Naedrani were likely to be. There was almost always a few near the wall the Black Shells had started building around Belus. By her admittedly inaccurate count, she had been on the Wastelands for nine days before she took enough interest in the new wall around the old Belus to risk finding out what attracted the Naedrani there.
The suns were both high and she was basking on some rocks, having just returned to the surface after a quick sluicing through the river. She had been teasing some of the Naedrani, dipping her hand into the sand where they could reach and pulling it back as they approached. A great sizzling, rumbled up from the sands. The Naedrani were making a great racket, all moving towards Belus quickly. Setena was too curious not to follow. She followed the covered river, found the bottom of one of the freshwater wells that stood at the edge of the village and hid there from both the Black Shells and the sand rays.
She poked her head above the surface of the well’s water into the inky dank of the stonewalled well. She saw that the mouth of the well was far beyond her reach, but a small distance above the top of the water was a place where some of the stones were missing and those that remained were loose. She worked at one of them long enough for her to slide it free and release it silently under the water to thud gently on the bottom. She repeated her actions until she had a large enough opening for her to swim into the shallow sands in the village. It was rocky and well packed and if she went too deep, her belly bumped lightly against the large shelf of rock that protected the village from the Naedrani, but she could travel the village without attracting the attention of either of her enemies.
Near to the Black Shells’ wall, she found a place alee of one of the huts. Protected from the sight of one predator, she looked down at the other. The Naedrani were thick in the sand below. Roiling together- perhaps in play or perhaps in rivalry over something they wanted. Some distance away, one leaped up from the sand, making an attempt to reach the top of the wall where several conquerors stood, also watching the frenzy below. As she looked closer, Setena could see that one of the forms standing on the rise of stone was not a Black Shell, but a Belurian. He was bound and stooped- barely holding himself up. She could smell his blood as it oozed, thick and fetid and smudgy from the slashes on his back and legs and maybe other places as well. A moment later, the Black Shells flung him down onto the sands and the Naedrani leaped and rolled over each other to get to him, dragging him quickly under the sands, his shrieks still echoing across the Wastelands. She would have leapt from the wall and tried to get to him, fought to save perhaps the only other of her people that still lived, if she had thought there was any chance that she wouldn’t be lost in the attempt as well.
She hadn’t meant to cry out- she was hiding, she was meaning to keep her tongue, but the moment had seemed half-dreamt until the Belurian had been pushed from the wall, when she had awakened and the yelp came from her lips unbidden. The Black Shells looked for her, drawing their eyes away from the desperate thrashing in the sand below and searching for the source of the sound. Setena didn’t wait for them to sight her or for them to give chase, she quickly slipped off the wall and under the sands, scraping her hands and wrists against the rock shelf below the village from diving towards it to steeply. With a frantic body, but a strangely assured mind, she made her way to the well, slid around and down its outside face until she found the open place she had made and splashed down into the water and made her way back to her shallows.